ARE THE PLANETS INHABITED? (1913) – Written by Edward Walter Maunder, this book began with ridicule of the outdated belief that the sun and moon might be inhabited, but it doesn’t exactly embody scientific accuracy itself. Therefore I’m classifying it as science fiction even though in 1913 it was considered to be a series of observations adhering to rigid scientific principles.
MARS – Maunder hilariously refers over and over again to “independent confirmations” that Mars had canals. It was believed that these canals provided water from the planet’s polar ice caps to the rest of the desert planet. The author proceeds to cite observations from no less an authority than Percival Lowell, who in 1894 added “oases” at the “junctions” of Schiaparelli’s Martian canals.
The supposed regularity and precision of those oases (reservoirs might have been a better term, even though it, too, would be in error) “proved” to scientists of the time that they could NOT be mere natural formations. This book explains that the Martians are apparently mounting a monumental engineering project in a losing battle to keep their population alive.
In 1910 Lowell had elaborated on his theories, stating that there were signs of vegetation along the canals, “proving” that the canals were used for irrigation. So this book details what we now know to be nonexistent vegetation along nonexistent canals built by nonexistent Martians. There are even thrown in comparisons to the annual flooding of the Nile, speculating that the canals in the northern and southern hemispheres periodically overflow during each hemisphere’s respective summer months, when the polar ice caps melt more intensely.
VENUS – The cloud cover of Venus was presumed to mean that it had meteorological conditions similar to the Earth, but at a much higher planetary surface temperature. Inhabitants of Venus would be unable to practice astronomy because the cloud cover would prevent them from ever observing that stars and other planets existed.
The planet was therefore presumed to be like the hottest and most humid tropical rainforests of the Earth. Animal life like existed in our own jungles might thrive on Venus but the possibility of humanoid life was dismissed.
MERCURY – The extreme temperatures of Mercury plus its elliptical orbit and the fact that the same side of the planet always faced the sun meant that the possibility of any life on it was to be dismissed. All well and good.
THE ASTEROID BELT – Maunder wrote that none of the asteroids could possibly support life, either, because their small size prevented them from having any appreciable atmosphere plus their varying distance from the sun meant temperatures that could not support even molds.
JUPITER – This planet was presumed to consist of a storm-filled atmosphere above a sea with no land masses on it and a liquid planetary core. Jupiter was believed to generate so much heat on its own that it enabled the existence of water in various states despite its distance from the sun. On the other hand, Maunder wrote that heat given off by Jupiter was NOT sufficient to yield life on any of its moons.
SATURN, URANUS and NEPTUNE – Pluto was not discovered until 1930 so there is no mention of it here, and we know now that Pluto was eventually ruled to be a dwarf planet and not a full planet anyway. This book dismissed Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as being all-gas, without even the seas that were speculated to be on Jupiter.
Are The Planets Inhabited? was entertaining only in very isolated spots. Most of the book is given over to mathematical and scientific theories regarding planetary rotations, orbits, density and atmospheric conditions. Edward Walter Maunders’ correct pronouncements on the absence of life on most of the bodies in our solar system may have shown that he was being discriminating enough that his speculations about Venus, Mars and Jupiter took a firm grip on popular imagination.
It certainly would have made our solar system more romantically appealing if there was indeed a High Civilization constructing canals on Mars, or tropical rainforests on Venus in which dwelled alien life-forms as dangerous as any in our jungles. Even the presumed seas of Jupiter could mean the possibility of subaquatic life-forms.
I can easily imagine that this more rational approach to potential life on other planets filled the minds of many with thoughts of one day communicating with Martians, or visiting Venus for safaris while clad in protective armor, or plunging into the depths of Jupiter’s seas to look for whale-sized – or larger – life-forms.
Maunder’s book may have snuffed out a lot of dreams regarding humanoid life on every planet of our solar system, but it certainly would have kept alive enough hope for interplanetary wonders on a smaller but no less fantastic scale. +++
FOR TEN MORE EXAMPLES OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2014/03/03/ten-neglected-examples-of-ancient-science-fiction/
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
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